Real Madrid's homegrown '80s greats La Quinta: Where are they now?

Elliott Turner looks at what became of Los Blancos' fantastic homegrown team of the late '80s…

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You can laugh, but, once upon a time, Real Madrid’s youth academy was the envy of the world and known as la Fábrica [the factory]. This was the 1980s, a decade blighted by Thatcher and Reagan but blessed with Steven Spielberg films and an unprecedented run of domestic success for Los Merengues. In fact, Madrid won five La Ligas in a row, a Copa del Rey, and three Spanish Super Cups.

Like all fairytales, the good guys earned a nickname: la Quinta del Buitre, “The Vulture’s Cohort.” While writing for Spanish daily El País, journalist Julio Iglesias saw a young and talented group of players who would lead Castilla, Real Madrid’s second team, to a title. Star striker Emilio Butragueño, long and lean like a vulture, poached goals as a vulture picks the flesh off a carcass... and “Butra” sounds like Buitre, Spanish for “vulture.”  

Powered up front by the grace of Emilio Butragueño and the intensity of Hugo “Hugol” Sánchez, Real Madrid didn't just win games, they ran over other teams, a runaway locomotive with no need for a conductor. Play a holding midfielder? Not needed. Still, despite winning two UEFA Cups, the Champions League crown eluded their best efforts. The run-and-gun fun in Iberia did not translate to dramatic two-legged ties of European knockout rounds.

Some Madrid fans are bitter that la Quinta never lifted a European Cup, but those who saw them will never forget their irresistible energy and aggression. At any moment and in any game, a tsunami of goals could arrive. You could only hold your breath and wait.

Emilio Butragueño

The Vulture scored a brace on his La Liga debut for Real Madrid against Cádiz, and never slowed down afterwards. In his European debut, he notched a hat-trick against Anderlecht. Butragueño was a classic continental forward, which is to say he couldn’t be bothered to head crosses and his workrate was negligible. Still, he combined lightning-quick acceleration with daring dribbling and unfathomable trickery. He was the Spanish fusion of Romario and (Brazilian) Ronaldo before those two were even old enough to drive a car.

Butragueno and Michel, pictured back in 1989

And Emilio always could find the time to slow down, balance himself, and sidefoot to the far post with his right foot

And Emilio always could find the time to slow down, balance himself, and sidefoot to the far post with his right foot. He even had a video game named after him in 1988.

After retiring, Emilio remained at Madrid but changed his boots for a suit and tie. His role with the club has alternated between Vice President and Director, depending on how well Jorge Valdano gets along with the newest coach. He is currently the Director at Real Madrid, and handles his public relations duties with tact and grace. Hence his other nickname: El Caballero Blanco, the White Knight. 

Next: The goal machine who was nearly a dentist